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Jamie Meltzer's documentary Welcome to Nollywood offers a fascinating insight into a gigantic film industry many people haven't even heard of yet. Ambitious filmmakers in Nigeria produce an average of 2,400 films per year, or more than forty per week. While most of these movies are produced on minuscule budgets, many of them still pull a huge number of viewers. Welcome to Nollywood, indeed!
Meltzer's film only runs for 58 minutes, but I admit I rarely get to see documentaries that are as entertaining and informative as this one. Much like most Nigerian filmmakers we meet in this project, Meltzer doesn't blow any smoke and gets straight to the point: the exploding Nigerian film industry is now the third-largest in the world, and the market is growing faster than you can scream "Action!"
Nollywood centers on a handful of directors and producers making large contributions to the growing film industry in Africa, and one of the more eccentric characters Meltzer profiles here is a guy named Chico, a skilled filmmaker who's produced so many films, he can't even remember what some of them are about. Chico is one of a few who helped turn guerilla filmmaking into an assembly line, and watching him talk about his passion is both inspirational and utterly hilarious.
Chico knows his work though, and he produces the content people want to see. His methods are unbelievable, but he tells us that when you barely have a budget and want to shoot a movie, you better not lose any time. Case in point: he hires extras for his films on the go by offering passers-by some cash and explaining to them their roles in less than 20 seconds. Time for rehearsals is often nonexistent; after one or two takes at most, Chico is happy and moves on to the next scene.
As a learning filmmaker myself, I find it utterly fascinating to observe how these people work and how much of a contrast there is between their way of filmmaking and ours here in the United States. That said, the crazy Nigerian way of shooting a flick are truly inspiring, I can tell you that much.
Welcome to Nollywood works so well as a documentary because it does a great job at covering a whole lot of compelling material in less than an hour. From interviews with Nigerian filmmakers to detailed set visits, this film keeps you hooked from the first scene to the very last frame. As hilarious as it is to watch some of these guys work, the film also offers a great insight into how and why Nollywood films have become so popular.
Films produced in Nigeria find large audiences because people can relate to the African stories. As Chico and some others tell us, none of these filmmakers want to produce Hollywood-like films. They want to remain true to their culture and make movies with meaning, and that's their recipe for success. Of course, the advancement of technology and digital filmmaking are more reasons why this industry flourishes. Some films have a budget of less than $1.50.
The second part of Welcome to Nollywood follows one director as he attempts to shoot a war epic. You can trust me when I say that watching him try to pull it off comes close to experiencing an action thriller. I won't go into details here, but from using firecrackers for simulated gun battles to struggling with limited funds, the challenges he and his crew and cast are facing are huge.
If all the information you get by watching the film isn't enough, I can only recommend Meltzer's audio commentary, which is the DVD's only bonus. Even though he occasionally just describes the scenes in the film, he does eventually offer some extra insight into how he came up with the idea for this movie and how it got made. Young or learning documentary filmmakers should take note…
The disc boasts a decent full-frame presentation, and considering most of the documentary is shot guerilla style as well, the picture quality works just fine. The footage is not the sharpest, but it certainly does the job. Same goes for the audio transfer.
No matter how large your interest in filmmaking, make sure you don't miss this wonderful documentary about Nigeria's booming film industry. Not only is it through and through funny, but it also proves yet again that lacking a budget is not necessarily reason enough not to shoot a movie. These guys get it done no matter what, and believe it or not, the result is quite rewarding. This one's a big winner!
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